UKRAINE: Mechanic-turned-soldier Artchk helps shore up defenses in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk against an expected Russian onslaught while adjacent farmer Vasyl Avramenko bemoans the loss of crops replaced by mines.
Kramatorsk and its twin, Sloviansk, are being bombarded with artillery shells as Moscow continues its onslaught in the heavily industrialized Donbas region.
Their defenders are outgunned, but Ukrainians have fought Russian-backed forces in this area in the past, capturing the cities in April 2014 and taking them back three months later.
In their fantasy, the Russians would like to take these cities, but they don’t expect the kind of resistance – not just from the Ukrainian government, but from ordinary citizens as well – that they will face when they do so.
As excavators excavate trenches on their outskirts to thwart the approach of Russian tanks, Moscow sees these cities as the origin of the separatist insurrection it supported in 2014.
In the Donetsk region, they were once the Soviet Union’s machine-building centres, and now they’re in Russia’s sights, after the Kremlin’s forces seized control of the neighboring Luhansk region last weekend.
Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told reporters on Tuesday that he was preparing to evacuate both cities as incoming shells could be heard in the distance.
Military experts believe that Ukraine’s new front line will be better protected now that it has retreated from a zone that Russia has been able to pound with artillery from three different directions for months.
They stated they were outgunned and pleaded with Western countries to send more advanced heavy guns and ammunition while taking a break from the front lines roughly 10 kilometers from Sloviansk.
A conflict that claimed the lives of more than 14,000 people and raged for years erupted in 2014 after Russian proxies withdrew from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the separatists uprising in Crimea after the country’s Moscow-backed president fled amid pro-Western demonstrations in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
After a failed attack on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared seizing the Donbas region on behalf of separatists his main war goal.
Many of the citizens who have chosen to remain in Kramatorsk and Sloviansk are believed to be Russian sympathizers, making them the final major barriers to attaining this goal.
When Yulia Laputina led the task force that recovered Sloviansk in 2014, she played down this suspicion and maintained it had barely changed since eight years earlier.
There are still some pro-Russians in Donetsk, according to Governor Kyrylenko.
A guy was arrested in Kramatorsk on Monday by Ukraine’s SBU security service for allegedly giving Russian artillery with Ukrainian military positions’ coordinates, a spokeswoman said.
Authorities and military have refused to share defense strategies for the region in the face of increased checks on vehicles entering cities.
One 53-year-old farmer in Sloviansk’s practically deserted main market said he couldn’t farm much of his six acres on the city’s outskirts because it had been mined to fight off Russian attacks.
Residents would battle in the streets, he said, and he pledged to rejoin the territorial defense forces, just as he had done in 2014.
“It’s terrible that no one came up with a solution back in 2014. We need to get rid of them immediately and put an end to this,” he added, as he gathered the garlic he’d been unable to sell into a single package.
According to him, this time around, the artillery fire was far more powerful, compelling him to seek refuge in his basement on numerous occasions.
Two individuals were killed and seven were injured when artillery struck the market hours later.